TV show reveals turmoil behind solar-powered flight

Solar Impulse pilots and plane
Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg shared the piloting duties on the single-seat Solar Impulse 2 airplane. (Niels Ackermann Photo / Rezo / Solar Impulse)

From the outside, it looked as if the Swiss-led Solar Impulse project smoothly soldiered through adversity as its solar-powered plane made a record-setting trip around the world in 2015 and 2016.

But the perspective was different when seen from the inside: The multimillion-dollar campaign nearly came crashing down when teammates debated whether to go ahead with a crucial Pacific crossing, even though the monitoring system for the autopilot wasn’t working right.

“The engineers were crying,” said Bertrand Piccard, the Swiss psychiatrist and adventurer who served as Solar Impulse’s co-founder, chairman and one of its pilots. “They were begging me to stop.”

The turmoil as well as the technology behind the globe-girdling, fuel-free odyssey are on full display in “The Impossible Flight,” a two-hour NOVA documentary premiering on PBS tonight.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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